GDT: Maple Leafs at Jets (8:30 p.m., Sportsnet)
The Maple Leafs continue a busy week with another all-Canadian matchup (one of three this week) tonight in Winnipeg. When playing as the tired team against a rested opponent, the Leafs are 1-4-1 this season, which makes sense for a team that needs its legs to be there in order to play its speed game. The Leafs do have momentum on their side, having collected 11 of their last 12 points, while Winnipeg enters tonight coming off of two losses in which they’ve scored once.
The Leafs will stick with the same lineup that’s been showing some good chemistry lately and playing well in all facets of the game. Their offense sits fifth in the league, while the defence has been shored up considerably since the New Year, posting five shutouts and limiting the opposition to 30 goals over their fifteen games since January 1. Five weeks into the calendar year, miraculously the once-moribund PK has yet to be scored on in 2012, while the powerplay is holding steady at fifth in the league (20%). Combined with good health, it seems to all be coming together at the right time for the Leafs in their bid to end the franchise’s seven-season playoff famine.
The Score on the special teams battle tonight:
The Jets failed to score a power-play goal on their road trip, going 0-for-15. Playing a seventh straight game without concussed forward Evander Kane, who leads the club with 18 goals, hasn’t helped a Winnipeg team that sits 10th in the East and five points out of first place in the Southeast Division.
Tonight’s matchup with the Leafs won’t help the Jets break out of their season-high funk on the man advantage. Toronto has gone 15 straight games without allowing a power-play goal, the longest such streak in the league since the Chicago Blackhawks went 19 straight games without giving up a power- play goal in 1969-70.
Toronto is a perfect 22-for-22 over its current run, which is its longest for the franchise since 1940-41.
*Note: Evander Kane will return for the Jets tonight.
The one change to the lineup comes in goal, where Jonas Gustavsson returns to the Leaf net. Wilson is in a good position with his goaltending right now as he has both his guys well rested, pushing each other, and playing at or near the top of their games. It’s even too tough to pick a 1A and 1B at this point. It will be fascinating to see if and who gains an edge in the Leaf net down the stretch.
The Jets will be looking at this game as their chance to reassert themselves in the playoff picture. Struggles as of late have them sitting at 54 points through 54 games, and a 1.2% chance at the playoffs according to sportsclubstats. Rested playing a tired team, at home in the MTS Centre where they’re 15-8-2 this season, this is pretty much as close as it gets to a must-win in February as far as the Jets are concerned. Alternately, the Leafs have a chance to put the Jets on the ropes.
The last time these teams met in Winnipeg (on New Year’s Eve), the Leafs lost a highly winnable game thanks to a penalty kill operating at its lowest efficiency and some (seemingly) playing-to-the-home-crowd refereeing decisions. At least the Leafs have fixed the first problem.